Depth of the 1966-67 UCLA Bruins Team was Truly Amazing

1969-70 Topps Lew Alcindor #25 SGC Mint 96
A 1969-70 Topps Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) NBA rookie card, graded SGC Mint 96, realized $5,138.50 at a September 2004 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 2011, the Sporting News conducted a poll of former players and coaches, current coaches and college basketball experts. The goal was to pick the “Greatest College Basketball Team” in history.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the winner was the 1966-67 UCLA Bruins, who finished the season 30-0, averaged 90.2 points a game and won all four NCAA tournament games that season by at least 15 points.

However, the story leading up to this distinction started a year earlier in 1965.

On Nov. 27, 1965, UCLA’s two-time defending national champions played for the first time in Pauley Pavilion, UCLA’s sparkling new basketball arena.

And got totally blown out 75-60.

It seemed bad enough for the losers that the winning team ran off the court with their index fingers raised, chanting in unison on their way to the locker room “We’re number one! We’re number one!”

No, the worst part was knowing the winners wouldn’t leave. They would be hanging around the entire season to remind the vaunted varsity … winner of 58 of 60 games in the past two seasons … that they had been totally overpowered by UCLA’s freshman team!

Perhaps the only one not perturbed was Coach John Wooden, since among those freshman was a 7-1 center who would be back to form the nucleus of a dynasty. His name was Lew Alcindor (he would later change it to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after he left UCLA) and the next three years turned out to be quite remarkable.

Incidentally, despite the loss to the freshman team, UCLA’s varsity would still be ranked the No. 1 team in the nation the following week.

It seems somewhat ironic that the UCLA campus had the No. 1 team in college basketball, except for their “other” team, which was apparently far better. This was an abundance of talent that had never been assembled on a college – either before or after.

Still, one does have to wonder just how good a team they would have had if everyone got to play together.

Scary thought.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

First NCAA Tournament Lost Money. How Things Have Changed

lfVUITNIVG
Hank Luisetti is considered one of basketball’s great innovators. This 1940s-era photo was among a group of signed photographs that went to auction in October 2009.

By Jim O’Neal

In 2010, the NCAA and CBS entered into a 14-year contract for broadcasting rights of the March Madness basketball tournament. The terms added up to a staggering $10.8 billion. For perspective, consider the initial year of the championship in 1939.

It was held on the elm-shaded campus of Northwestern University, which stretched along the western shore of Lake Michigan in Evanston, Ill. It was there in a cramped Patten Gymnasium, before a raucous crowd of about 5,000, that the national champion would be crowned.

It was a different time when the backboards were painted white and players wore high-top black leather shoes, indistinguishable from those worn by boxers. Players shot free throws underhand and the two-hand set shot was standard. The jump shot was practically unheard of, although Hank Luisetti had introduced the “running one hander” at Stanford in 1936.

The first tournament consisted of only eight teams selected by eight regional districts, then narrowed down to two by single-game elimination playoffs. The two teams that survived were Oregon and Ohio State. Both had breezed through the eliminations, but Oregon simply overwhelmed OS 46-33.

One “highlight” was when Oregon guard Bobby Anet dived for a loose ball, crashed into a table and broke the championship trophy.

The tournament ended with a net loss of $2,531.

Undaunted, the tournament continued and today ranks as one of sports’ big events that include the World Series, Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby and Masters Golf Tournament at Augusta Country Club.

Things change and television advertising is a major factor. Get ready for another weekend of basketball mania.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Despite Cataclysms, Life Continues – But How Did It All Begin?

Fossil Amphibian with Larvae
The fossilized remains of amphibians from the Permian Period routinely are offered at auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Scientists generally assume the planets were formed by the accretion of dust and gas in a cosmic cloud, but the length of time this process takes is hard to estimate. Our little orb acquired its present size about 4.5 billion years ago (some use 4.6) and life originated about 2 billion years ago. We don’t know how it got started or if it exists elsewhere, but we do know that life goes on (so far).

A recent book, The Worst of Times by Paul B. Wignall, examines the extinction of life with the most notable events dubbed “The Big 5.” The largest one occurred at the end of the Permian Period – 252 million years ago – when 95 percent of all animals and one-third of insect species went extinct. It was the closest all us earthlings have come to total obliteration.

The next mass extinction was 210 million years ago at the end of the Triassic Period. This time, 70 percent to 75 percent of all life vanished.

Despite these and other cataclysms, the simple fact that life is so abundant demonstrates the difficulty in ending it. This may be the first time in our history that the power to eradicate life ourselves exists. Hopefully, we will be wise enough to avoid this.

One interesting observation is that for the first 99 percent of human history, we didn’t do much more than survive and procreate. Then a remarkable but still unexplained era began, when people all over the world discovered farming, writing, architecture, irrigation and even governance.

We call this the Neolithic Revolution. Scientists can tell us where it happened and when, but they cannot explain precisely why.

The puzzling aspect is that it happened among people who had no idea that others in distant places were doing precisely the same things. Farming was started independently seven times – China, New Guinea, the Middle East, the Andes, the Amazon basin, Mexico and West Africa – all without any possibility of shared contact.

When Hernán Cortés landed in Mexico, he found roads, canals, palaces, courts, markets, irrigation works, kings, priests, art, music and books – all independent of similar developments on other continents.

It is tempting to think of this as a global lightbulb event, but most developments involve long periods of trial and error. The tempo of progress has been unpredictable and erratic. Clearly, there was no master plan, yet humans conquered the disadvantages of geographic isolation, variable conditions and diverse cultures.

Contrast that with today’s billions of people constantly communicating, replicating and innovating. The world has become very small in comparison. The rate of change and increase in knowledge is directly proportional to the increase in Internet connectivity.

NASA has defined “life” as 1. Metabolize + 2. Reproduce + 3. Evolve = Life. Now if we could just discover how it started.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Johnson and Bird Went from National Championship to NBA Magic

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson Signed Photograph
The Larry Bird-Magic Johnson feud continued when the college stars entered the NBA, with Bird playing for the Boston Celtics and Johnson joining the Los Angeles Lakers.

“We got a team that can kill you from the outside, and we got a team that can kill you from the inside. If we’re on top of our game, ain’t nobody in the world can beat Michigan State.” — Sophomore sensation Magic Johnson, Sports Illustrated interview regarding the 1979 NCAA championship

By Jim O’Neal

Not everyone shared MJ’s optimism. The Michigan State Spartans were highly respected, but they had lost six of their 27 games in the regular season and had to settle for a three-way tie in the Big Ten.

Then there was the little issue of Indiana State and their star, first-team All-American Larry Bird. The Sycamores from Terre Haute – in their first NCAA tournament – were undefeated in 1978-79 and ended the regular season ranked No. 1.

Later, Larry Joe Bird would have an outstanding 13-year career in the NBA with the Boston Celtics, where he was a 12-time NBA All-Star and a member of the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Star team. He is the only person in NBA history to be named MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year.

Both Michigan State and Indiana State made it to the Final Four and ended up playing for the championship. The early chatter about a championship clash between Bird and Johnson was finally about to become a reality.

Earvin Johnson had picked up his nickname “Magic” when he was a 15-year-old sophomore at Everett High School when he scored 36 points, had 16 rebounds and 16 assists in a game. A local sportswriter said, “Man, that was just magic!”

The Michigan State team – regrouping after an unimpressive regular season – was now in full bloom and prevailed 75-64. The surprising lopsided victory closed out Indiana State’s win streak at 33 games and gave the mighty Spartans their first national championship.

Magic Johnson had been right about his team assessment and he also ended up being the tournament MVP. The Bird versus Magic competition would continue for many years and produce many exciting NBA games.

Man, they were just magic!

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Federal Government Crucial to Making ‘Manifest Destiny’ a Reality

Winfield Scott For President Daguerreotype for the 1852 Whig Presidential Candidate
After the Mexican–American War, the Whig Party nominated Army General Winfield Scott for president. This daguerreotype from his unsuccessful 1852 campaign realized $25,000 at a September 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1848, the U.S. Army was firmly encamped in Mexico City waiting for orders from Washington, D.C.

General Winfield Scott’s surprise amphibious capture of Veracruz was followed by a five-month, 200-mile campaign involving bloody hand-to-hand fighting and now they were positioned to conquer the entire country.

President James Polk resisted calls to annex “all Mexico” once they had prevented the sale of California to Great Britain. On Feb. 2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed and Polk wisely got the U.S. Senate to approve it. In return for $15 million, the U.S. got a Mexican cessation that included the present day states of California, Utah, Nevada, much of Arizona and New Mexico, plus portions of Wyoming and Colorado.

With a stroke of the pen, the U.S. was now 25 percent larger in size. Added to the annexation of Texas in 1845, this constituted an area larger than the Louisiana Purchase, which had doubled the size of the nation. In a brief span of 45 years, the United States was now a remarkable four times larger.

President Polk also created the Department of the Interior to assist with the assimilation of these vast territories.

Almost from the moment of independence, an expansionist strand of American thinking had envisioned a nation growing beyond the Ohio River into an empire stretching as far as the Pacific Ocean. In 1845, newspaper editor John Sullivan famously described a “manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent.”

What underpinned this vision was the effectiveness of the public land survey and the federal government’s establishment of a sequence of events to guide actions. First, it acquired land by treaty, sending surveyors to map and document the land. Then it ordered federal troops to clear out and subdue any resisting natives. It subsidized the construction of railroads to facilitate western migration. And finally, it had bureaucracies to manage the process. This included the Land Office, Geological Survey, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Forest Service.

The process was not smooth.

Nevertheless, by the end of the 19th century, the federal government had amassed great size, power and effective control “from sea to shining sea.”

America the beautiful!

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

What’s the Incentive for the Further Exploration of Titan?

CHESLEY BONESTELL Saturn Viewed from Titan, c. 1952
Chesley Bonestell’s oil on board Saturn Viewed from Titan, circa 1952, realized $77,675 at a May 2010 Heritage auction. Bonestell’s paintings are credited with helping to inspire the U.S. space program.

By Jim O’Neal

In addition to mighty Jupiter, there are three outer planets: Saturn, Neptune and Uranus. Astronomers generally call them gas giants, though they consist mostly of liquid and have solid cores.

The four have a lot in common including numerous moons, deep stormy atmospheres and rings that consist of rock or ice flakes. Today, we take a brief look at one of them, Saturn, since we’ve gained a lot of valuable scientific information about it in the past 10-plus years.

For starters, it is the second-largest planet (after Jupiter) and about 10 times the size of Earth’s diameter. It shines like a bright yellow star and its most famous feature is a magnificent ring system that is easily seen with a common telescope.

What makes Saturn even more interesting is information gathered from the Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting the planet since 2004. On Jan. 14, 2005, a probe from Cassini landed on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. The Huygens probe marked mankind’s first landing on a body in the Outer Solar System.

The mission was to monitor Titan’s atmosphere and surface.

Titan turns out to be one of the most Earth-like worlds we’ve found to date, with a thick atmosphere and organic, rich chemistry. Cassini has revealed that Titan’s surface is shaped by rivers and lakes of liquid ethane and methane (the main component of natural gas). It appears volcano-like with perhaps liquid water under an ice shell playing the role of lava.

It is analogous to a frozen version of Earth … before our cyanobacteria began pumping oxygen into our atmosphere. Scientists speculate there may be a huge liquid ocean beneath the surface. All we would need then would be to find there a few sunken Spanish galleons loaded with gold coins to spark a new numismatic frenzy!

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

No Team Has Matched the Brilliance of John Wooden’s Bruins

The John R. Wooden Award Player of the Year Perpetual Trophy
The John R. Wooden Award Player of the Year perpetual trophy – presented to every winner between 1977 and 1984, including Larry Bird and Michael Jordan – realized $35,850 at a July 2015 Heritage auction. After each presentation ceremony, winners would receive their own copies of this award.

By Jim O’Neal

John Wooden had an extraordinary basketball career prior to his days as coach at UCLA. He was a three-time All-State player in high school as his team won the state championship for three consecutive years. He went on to play at Purdue, where he was the first player ever to be a three-time consensus All-American.

Later, he would become the first person to be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach (Lenny Wilkins, Bill Sharman and Tommy Heinsohn now share this distinction).

Wooden went to UCLA in 1948 and took over the head coaching duties. During his tenure, he guided the Bruins to 10 National Championships, including seven in a row. At one stage, they won 88 straight games and in four separate seasons they were 30-0.

In 1964, UCLA sailed through the regular season without a defeat and wound up on top of both the AP and UPI polls. However, in the prior six seasons, not a single team that ranked No. 1 had won the championship.

The Final Four match-up was in Kansas City and featured Duke, Michigan, Kansas State and UCLA … all blue-chip contenders.

UCLA beat KS, and Duke had a surprisingly easy win over a Michigan team that featured the great Cazzie Russell and Bill Buntin.

In the championship game, the Duke Blue Devils hoped their height advantage and high-scoring machine (they were averaging 93 points per game) would be enough to counter the unique UCLA full-court press.

Wrong.

The Bruins were at their best, their fastest and most accurate, ringing up 50 points in the first half and another 48 in the second. Duke was never in the game, losing badly 98-83.

UCLA would win all the marbles again in 1965 and then return in 1967 to start a remarkable seven-year National Championship streak. They set records that will never be broken.

On and off the court, John Wooden was simply the best … ever.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Winston Churchill Rallied Britain to Its Finest Hour

Winston Churchill Inscribed Photograph Signed to Admiral Ernest J. King
This Winston Churchill inscribed photograph sold for $17,925 at an April 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In June 1940, Great Britain was in mortal danger. Germany had captured all of Western Europe and had begun preparations for an invasion of Britain. It was the most serious threat to their security since the Spanish Armada in 1588. If Hitler’s panzer divisions were able to cross the channel they would overwhelm the British Army.

The new Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, knew his county faced a daunting challenge. On June 18, he stood before the House of Commons: “The Battle of France is over … the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon it depends our British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.

“Hitler knows that he will have to break us on this island or lose the war … Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say … ‘This was their finest hour!’ ”

Operation Sea Lowe or “Sea Lion” was the Nazi plan to invade Great Britain. The United States had not yet entered the war, so if successful, the Fuhrer’s “Thousand Year Reich” might become a reality.

German war planners fixed the invasion date for mid-September, despite Britain’s powerful navy being a serious threat to any invasion. The plan was for the German air force, the Luftwaffe, to clear the skies and then destroy the Royal Navy. Then the invasion could begin unimpeded.

The Luftwaffe was stationed in Norway, Belgium and France. It comprised 2,670 fighters and bombers, compared to only 640 British Spitfires. The Battle of Britain – the first large-scale battle to be fought exclusively in the air – was about to begin.

An epic air battle was fought in two successive phases with heroics on both sides. However, the Germans did not realize the Royal Air Force was actually in dire straits, but then suddenly something happened that changed the entire course of the war.

German bombers accidentally dropped a load of bombs on South London, the first times civilians had ever been attacked. Enraged British forces retaliated by bombing Berlin! This shocked the Germans, who had faithfully promised their people they were entirely safe from any war.

What followed was the final phase of the Battle of Britain.

Beginning on Sept. 7, 200 German bombers – each night – assaulted London using incendiary devices to create fires and high-explosive bombs to destroy structures. On Sept. 15, two massive waves of Germans attacked England, but were somehow repulsed by furious RAF counterattacks. Then another bomber force was repulsed and caused Hitler to first postpone the invasion, and then abandon the idea entirely.

So the threat of invasion was lifted, but the bombing intensified.

On the terrible evening of Oct. 15, nearly 500 German planes dropped 386 tons of explosives and an astonishing 17,000 incendiary devices on London proper. The “blitz” continued throughout the 1940-41 winter as German planes continued to haunt the skies each night.

A major attack on May 10, 1941, turned out to be the last one as five weeks later, Hitler decided to invade Russia. Most Luftwaffe squadrons on the Atlantic were redeployed to the Eastern front.

The British had not been broken and the Battle of Britain did indeed turn out to be “Their Finest Hour.”

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

The California Golden Bears Came Out of Nowhere to Win It All in 1959

Late 1950's Oscar Robertson Photograph Archive, One Signed
Oscar Robertson (No. 12) led the Cincinnati Bearcats to the Final Four at the 1959 NCAA Tournament. This signed photo went to auction in October 2008.

By Jim O’Neal

The big question in 1959 was which one of the year’s big stars would lead their team to the NCAA championship: Oscar Robertson of Cincinnati, Bob Boozer at Kansas State, or “Zeke from Cabin Creek” Jerry West of West Virginia.

The answer was none of them, although Jerry and Oscar would guide their teams into the Final Four. The winner in 1959 was Coach Pete Newell’s starless California Golden Bears. They had won the Pacific Conference, but weren’t even ranked in the top 10 teams when the tournament started. They had a bye into the second round, where they were expected to be eliminated by a strong Utah team. Instead, they held the high-scoring Utes to a mere 53 points, while 6-10 center Darrall Imhoff monopolized the rebounding.

However, most eyes were looking to the east where West scored 25 points in an easy 82-68 win over a tough Dartmouth team. Then, several nights later, the 6-3 superstar chalked up 36 points to edge St. Joseph’s 95-92.

Kansas State had been ranked No. 1 at the end of the season and started strong by blistering DePaul 102-70 for only the third time a team had scored 100 points. Then they ran into Cincinnati and lost despite Boozer’s 32 points.

Meanwhile, California put away small Saint Mary’s in a game barely noticed and snuck into the Final Four.

Most thought Cincinnati would easily dispense with California in the semifinals given the explosive nature of the team that averaged 81 points a game complemented by the extraordinarily talented Oscar Robertson’s 29-point average. However, Coach Newell’s smothering defense prevailed in a 64-58 surprise upset.

West Virginia made the finals behind a sterling 38-point burst by West and easily beat Louisville 94-79.

So the stage was set to see if California could hold off Oscar Robertson one night and then Jerry West the next. When the final buzzer sounded, it was California 71 and West Virginia 70 in the biggest surprise of the year.

However, the next three years would clearly belong to the state of Ohio as Cincinnati and Ohio State fielded some of the best talent in tournament history.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

The Abner Doubleday Myth and the Alexander Cartwright Reality

1839 Alexander Cartwright Signed Book--Earliest Known Cartwright Autograph
An 1839 Alexander Cartwright signed book, the earliest-known Cartwright autograph, realized $10,157.50 at a February 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The baseball Hall of Fame officially opened on June 12, 1939, in Cooperstown, N.Y. The Cooperstown name was drawn from James Fenimore Cooper, whose works of literature have become American classics in every sense of the word.

The inaugural HOF class was selected three years earlier in 1936 and consisted of Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner. (Seven Cobb baseball cards were discovered this year in an old paper bag in rural Georgia after someone’s great-grandfather died. Experts at PSA estimate their value at “well into seven figures.”)

Now we know for sure that Abner Doubleday was a fine Civil War general and is credited with firing the first shot at the Confederates from Fort Sumter. However, his military record was tarnished when General George Meade replaced him at the Battle of Gettysburg. It was unfair, but Meade had been disdainful of Doubleday for a long time.

We also know that Doubleday obtained a patent on the little cable cars that “climb halfway to the stars,” as the venerable Tony Bennett sings about in his theme song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” A wise man once told me … never live in San Francisco, but never live too far from it.

Now back to Doubleday, where the facts start to get iffy.

Abner Doubleday was credited with inventing baseball by a commission sponsored by A.G. Spalding, co-founder of the sports equipment company, in an effort to dispel rumors that the All-American game had a British pedigree. Spalding organized the Mills Commission to authenticate baseball as an American invention and it concluded, conveniently, the concept was devised by Doubleday.

Abner Doubleday Twice Signed Civil War Carte-de Visite
This twice-signed Civil War carte-de-visite of Union General Abner Doubleday sold for $2,390 at a June 2008 auction.

Subsequently, the Mills report has been thoroughly discredited and a New York bank clerk, Alexander Cartwright, gets the honor … in addition to starting the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, designing the diamond shape and even sewing the first baseball. Some of the rules he created are still in use.

For those who love baseball as I do, Harold Peterson’s The Man Who Invented Baseball (1973) is a treasure and highly recommended.

Abner Doubleday had a terrific life, but it did not include baseball.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].